Merlin was moving more slowly the next morning. Gaius must have woken early-his medicinal bag was not in its usual spot, indicating he had gotten to work right away. Stifling a yawn, he glanced out the apothecary window. The city's smoldering ruins were even more apparent in the daylight, but they would recover. They always did-the people of Camelot were strong. As Merlin went about his chores in the castle, he found himself walking past Morgana's door more than once. Was Gaius inside? Surely he stopped in at some point this morning.
He turned and saw Gwen walking toward him. "Gwen, how are you after last night?"
"Much better. Gaius made me leave-he said I had to rest. I didn't want to, but I'm glad I did. I don't think I've ever slept better. Can you believe everything last night? Skeletons coming to life?"
Merlin laughed. "Yeah, crazy. Glad it's all over now." His eyes strayed to Morgana's door. "Um, how…how is she? The Lady Morgana…"
"Oh, Morgana's awake! Not quite strong enough to get out of bed. But I believe she'll be just fine if that's what you're worried about."
"Did she…say anything?"
Gwen looked puzzled. "Say anything about …what, exactly?"
Merlin shrugged. "Nothing. Just wondering how she was taking the whole attack, that's all."
"She seems well, and in better spirits, so that's the important thing. Said she wanted to talk with Uther as soon as she was up to it."
Merlin's pulse quickened. "Uther? Why would she want to talk with him?"
"I'm not really sure. Are you alright?"
Merlin felt the blood draining from his face. There was only one reason she would want to talk with Uther, and Merlin wanted to be as far away as possible when that happened. "Uh, I'm fine. I have to go. Sorry…"
Merlin brushed past Gwen. "Merlin, you're sure you're alright?"
He stopped and turned halfway. "Everything's fine. Gwen?"
"Thank you…for your everything. Your friendship's meant a lot."
"Um, you're welcome. You know you'll always have it," Gwen said reassuringly, although her expression was still rather quizzical.
"Well, have to go. Talk to you later!" Merlin dashed around the corner and raced to the apothecary. "Gaius?" he yelled as soon as he entered.
"Gaius, are you here?" Upon receiving no answer, Merlin headed to his room and began cramming articles of clothing into his bag. He felt like a coward, running away. But what other choice did he have? And what would become of his destiny, protecting Arthur?
Merlin paused as he was packing up his belongings. He loved Camelot. Where would he go-back to Ealdor? And surely Uther would search his hometown first, wreaking havoc on the entire village. Perhaps Ealdor wasn't the safest place to run. Then where could he go? Would he become like his father, hiding in the caves? The life of a hermit didn't sound too appealing. Then again, wasn't that what his life was becoming already? Another thought struck hims. What if his leaving would all be in vain? Morgana's conversation with Uther might revolve around something completely different. But he couldn't take that chance.
He wanted to say goodbye to Gaius, but it didn't appear as if he would get the chance. He would have to leave a note then. As he scribbled a few words onto a piece of paper, he fought back a tear before it ran down his cheek. What could he even say? He should be short and to the point so that Gaius wouldn't worry too much. But shouldn't he also show some affection? After all, Gaius was like a father to him. He looked over his note and was somewhat satisfied.
If you are reading this then I am safely outside of Camelot, and I am sure you know why by now. Please don't worry about me or try to find me. I will forever be grateful for the times spent with you and your wise words of instruction. Perhaps one day we shall meet again.
Merlin folded the letter and shoved it between one of Gaius's most frequently used medical books. He knew he could have written so much more in the note but couldn't bring himself to write the words. Glancing quickly through the apothecary once last time before leaving, he felt a twinge of sadness. So many happy memories had been spent here. He cautiously opened the door, looking both ways before he left. To avoid being recognized, he brought a cloak along and covered his head. Once he was outside of Camelot, he began to feel the full impact of what he was doing. He was implicating himself. He might have had a possible chance before, but now that he was running Uther would immediately proclaim him guilty.
But his choice was made, and there was no turning back.
One month later
Merlin scooped up a shovelful of dirt and tossed it behind him. His attempt at bringing his mother's vegetable garden back to life hadn't been very successful so far, but his mother didn't seem overly concerned. Glancing around him, he could see that life hadn't changed here at all since he had left. There had been the attack on Ealdor two years prior, but the villagers had recovered smoothly. Now they all went about their daily business as if seeing him around again wasn't so new.
The first day he had arrived back home there had been a couple of raised eyebrows aimed toward his direction, but the questions and rumors quickly ceased from spreading once Hunith put a stop to them. She had been beyond thrilled to see her son again, but once Merlin had relayed the story in its entirety to her, her joy was soon replaced by worry. Her greatest fear was that Uther would not rest until he found her son. Merlin had told her he wouldn't stay, but Hunith would hear of no such thing. "You will stay here with me-I won't lose you like…" she trailed off.
"Like you lost my father?" Merlin had said rather boldly. Hunith was initially shocked that Merlin knew anything about his father, but he quickly filled her in on all the facts surrounding Balinor, his death, and how Merlin himself was now bestowed with the title of Dragonlord.
Merlin smiled to himself as he continued his attempt at hoeing the garden. Yes, his time here with his mother had been good for the two of them. They had always been close, and the separation had been harder than he realized while living in Camelot. It had been a month already. Was it possible that he could live out the rest of his years here in Ealdor in peace and quiet? Merlin glanced down at the blisters on his hands from hoeing. The life of a farmer wasn't the most appealing vocation, but what other choice did he have?
As Merlin was finishing up the last row, a low murmur was beginning to spread throughout the village. Some of the villagers were running hurriedly down the road.
"What, has another one of the pigs escaped?" Merlin asked humorously as a slender boy ran past him.
"Not this time, but there are a whole bunch of men dressed up in funny costumes riding on horses! And they're coming to the village!" he yelled excitedly.
"Yeah, and guess what? Everyone's saying that Prince Arthur is riding in front...and there's a lady with 'em too. I saw her…she's pretty!" The little boy ran off to get another glimpse while Merlin stood transfixed in the garden. "They're here…Morgana's here?" he muttered in disbelief.
"Merlin-Merlin!" Hunith grabbed her son by the shoulders and brought him inside. "They mustn't see you. You know they've come for you! Stay in here."
"What will you tell Arthur?" Merlin said anxiously.
"I don't know, but you promise me you'll keep yourself hidden. I have to go out there before they get suspicious."
"No, this is wrong. I need to face them myself, Mother."
"Merlin, no. It's too dangerous!"
"Please, I have to do this. I should never have put any of you in danger."
Hunith pulled her son close and held on a few more seconds. "I'll go with you," she whispered. Merlin nodded and walked outside. As they got closer, Merlin could see that there were only around six knights altogether. He could better distinguish Arthur and Morgana as they rode in front. Merlin made an effort to push himself toward the head of the group of villagers as they stood gawking. As they came nearer, he could see Morgana turn to Arthur and point in his direction. She had seen him.
Arthur rode his horse ahead of the others. Merlin winced at the thought of Arthur knocking him senseless.
"Merlin!" Arthur called out.
"Sire," Merlin responded stiffly.
Arthur jumped off his horse. "Sire? That's the most respect I think I've ever gotten out of you. Where have you been? I should beat the tar out of you for abandoning us like that." To Merlin's utter amazement, Arthur laughed and pulled Merlin into a hug.
"W-what?" Merlin stammered.
"Don't listen to a word he says, Merlin. I told him you would probably be here to help your mother. Looks like I was right." Morgana had also dismounted and joined Arthur.
"You could have said something." Arthur crossed his arms and looked rather annoyed.
"It was my fault," Hunith cut in. "I came down rather suddenly with an illness and I sent for him. I'm afraid I scared my son so badly he didn't have time to tell anyone."
"Not even Gaius?" Arthur asked, still irritated.
"Arthur, where are your manners?" Morgana nudged him. "Hunith, I hope you're feeling better."
"Thank you, I'm much better, thanks to Merlin. He's been tending the garden for me and getting all the chores done. I don't know what I would have done without him these past few weeks."
"Forgive me, Hunith. I'm glad you're recovered. It's just when we couldn't find Merlin we were all a little…"
"Worried," Morgana finished.
Merlin stood there, glancing back and forth between Arthur and Morgana. He didn't really know what to say or think of the situation. Were they both being kind by not arresting him in front of his mother and friends? Or was it really possible that Arthur knew nothing of the real situation?
Morgana suddenly turned. "Will you be returning with us?"
"I-I…yes. I will be. As soon as I know for sure my mother will be fine without me."
"Well, I think there's no need to worry on my account, Merlin. You should all stay here for the night and make your journey back tomorrow morning. You'll feel so much more refreshed."
"Can't argue with that," said Arthur. "If there's not enough room for my knights we can always take shelter in the stable."
Merlin and Arthur walked in uncomfortable silence as they trekked up to the house. Morgana was up ahead with Hunith, chatting easily.
"I'm sorry," Merlin finally broke the silence.
"You should be," Arthur murmured sullenly.
"I know I should have said something…but I wasn't thinking straight."
"Good thing Morgana knew where to find you. Were you ever planning on coming back?"
"Eventually." Merlin smirked. "Were you really worried about me?"
"Shut up, Merlin."
Merlin couldn't help but grin mischievously. No, he was not in trouble. At least, not the kind he thought he was in.
After supper, Merlin took a walk to one of his favorite childhood spots. He especially loved being here on a clear night when the stars were out, and he would just sit and ponder his future. Tonight seemed like the perfect opportunity to do the same.
"Can I join you?"
Startled, Merlin turned to see Morgana approaching. He quickly stood.
"Yes…if you want to…my lady." Merlin really didn't know what to say or how to behave around her. He hadn't a clue what she remembered or what she was hiding.
"Please sit down…I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"No…I'm fine." Merlin thrust both hands inside his pockets, feeling as awkward as a bashful schoolboy.
Morgana hesitated as she stole a side glance at Merlin. "If you don't mind, I think I'll sit." She came down rather hard on the log that Merlin used as his perch. "Ouch-not very comfortable, is it?"
"I…guess I never noticed."
There was a lull in the conversation. Morgana seemed to be searching for the words to say.
"Are you going to have me imprisoned?" Merlin impulsively blurted out.
"Why are you really here, Morgana?"
"To find you, of course. And…and to apologize."
"Yes, that's what I've been trying to work up the nerve to tell you. I remember my former actions before my injury in the catacombs, but they're somewhat of a blur. Gaius has been filling me in on some of the details. My memories were coming back in bits and pieces…but always in my dreams. Then the nightmares kept growing stronger, but this time they weren't about the future. They were about you…and Morgause." Morgana suddenly stood and began pacing.
"Gradually, I began remembering the events of the day when I was taken by Morgause…"
"Then…then you remember the poison?" Merlin asked, still in shock.
"Yes, I remember the poison. But I know now that it wasn't you who did the poisoning. It was me."
Merlin's heart hammered against his chest. She really did remember!
"Morgause healed me, and for that I am grateful. But she used me in a horrible way to achieve her plans. I can never forgive her for that. But I do pity her. She is my sister, after all. I truly believe she loves me, but she cannot see beyond her hate for Uther."
"She enchanted you, I know she did. You weren't yourself when you returned to Camelot."
"Yes, I realize that now. I felt like a chess piece in a game…her game...the entire time. It was almost as if she was dictating my actions to me in my head. I saw you that day, you know."
"What day?" Merlin sat down beside her.
"The day you found me. Morgause didn't want you to find me so she brought me back. I'm assuming I was knocked unconscious."
"I knew it. I knew you were there. I could sense your…" Merlin trailed off. Not once had Morgana brought up remembering his magic. Not once. And he had already revealed it to her twice. Would he have to show her again?
"You could sense my what? My magic?"
"I know what you're thinking."
Morgana reached in her pocket and pulled something out. With her hands cupped, she held them in front of Merlin. "Do you remember this?" she asked as she slowly began to open them. Merlin's eyes widened. In her palms she held a single red rose.
Morgana nodded. "When I regained my full memory back I returned to the catacombs because I wanted to make sure I wasn't losing my mind. There was one thing I wanted to be realer than anything else that I remembered, and I found it when I discovered this rose. The rose you created…out of magic."
Merlin's hand trembled as he took the rose and inspected it. Not a scratch appeared on any of its delicate petals. It was almost as if it was waiting for Morgana to find it.
"Morgana…do you forgive me?"
"Forgive you, for what?"
"For keeping my secret from you so long. All of this could have been prevented…"
"You don't know that. You don't know that at all. Perhaps it was all meant to be from the beginning. The harder a trial is the stronger you become, after all."
Merlin ran his fingers through his hair and laughed. "I can't believe this is happening. I really can't. You know, a moment ago when I saw you all coming I thought you were going to bring me back as your prisoner. That's why I ran in the first place."
"You thought I was still enchanted, didn't you?"
"I didn't know what to think. The day I left, Gwen had told me you wanted to speak with Uther. I immediately assumed…"
"That I was going to tell Uther you were the one who poisoned me."
"I'm sorry; I was so scared."
"I understand, I do. You had a right to be afraid. Everyone missed you, you know."
"They did?" Merlin grinned slightly.
"Gaius muttered to himself constantly. You know, with that furrowed brow of his. And Arthur…well Arthur was a mess. Kept pestering Gaius and asking when you would be returning, where you had gone, why you had left in the first place. Of course, Gaius couldn't give any answers. Arthur must have sent sent out a dozen or more search parties for you."
"I bet Uther liked that," Merlin wryly commented.
"He wasn't thrilled. But Arthur has been so distracted over the past month that Uther finally let him have his way when he informed him of his plans to travel to Ealdor to find you. Arthur hated the new servant you were replaced with."
"He did? Well, it's good to see I'm not completely worthless!"
"Don't ever think you're worthless, Merlin." Morgana reached out for Merlin's hand and gripped it tightly. "I understand from Gaius that if it weren't for you I would still be under Morgause's enchantment."
"He told you that?"
"I began confiding in him more and more as my memories began returning. I'm glad I did. Without him I would still be confused now."
"I'm glad you're back. Really glad."
"Me too." Morgana smiled. She suddenly realized that she was still holding Merlin's hand. Embarrassed, she let go but he held on.
"I want to help you…with understanding your powers, that is. We can work together, helping each other. Would you like that?"
Morgana was speechless for a moment. "I…I would love that."
Clearing his throat, Merlin suddenly recalled a particularly tender moment they had shared. "So, do you remember everything before Morgause took you away?"
Morgana blushed slightly and glanced slyly over at Merlin. "I believe I do, yes. If I'm thinking of the same thing you're referring to."
Merlin impulsively leaned over and kissed her. Morgana was caught slightly by surprise but didn't resist. When Merlin pulled away he looked bashful. "Sorry…I…"
"Don't be sorry. Just never do that in front of Uther," Morgana said, causing both of them to chuckle.
They sat outside together for what seemed like hours, just gazing up at the stars and and pointing out the different constellations. Merlin showed off by creating his own fire, using magic of course. He delighted in every minute of it. Finally, someone he could be himself around. Tired, Morgana laid her head on Merlin's shoulder.
"Merlin?" Morgana suddenly asked.
"What if Morgause tries to contact me again?"
"Then we'll deal with her…together. You aren't alone anymore."
"No, no I'm not." Morgana smiled. "I've got you."
As they sat for a little while longer, Merlin marveled how things had worked out so beautifully. He never would have imagined Morgana sitting next to him, laying her head on his shoulders of all things! And now they would cultivate their magic…together. It seemed unreal. He brought his arm around her and pulled her closer. The stars seemed as if they were shining extra bright just for them tonight. Merlin smiled as he put constellations together in his head like puzzle pieces. That's what this whole messy situation had turned out to be-puzzle pieces that had finally come into place. There was another way after all, even though it had seemed impossible.
Merlin glanced down at a sleeping Morgana, still feeling as if he could pinch himself at any moment and she would be gone. But it wasn't a dream-it was real.
"Yes, there is always another way," Merlin murmured softly as he laid his head on Morgana's.
But...the end is just the beginning. :) I do have plans for more short stories featuring the lovely Merlin and Morgana, but I will have to take a short break from them for the time being. I've neglected my first story on Robin Hood, and I'd like to finish it before I begin another Merlin story. So, did you all enjoy the last chapter? I hope it was everything you wanted it to be. I don't think I've ever taken so long writing a chapter before! I wanted the last scene between Merlin and Morgana to be special, but I hope everything made sense. Thank you for all your support as I've written this story-it's meant so much to me! Would anyone out there even be interested if I continued to write short stories for Merlin and Morgana? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts! :)